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A health care worker wearing a mask holds a large sign reading "wear a mask for me"
HHS photographer Owen Thomas took this photo as part of the “Wear a mask for me” campaign, urging the community to protect patients and staff early on in the pandemic. The was one photo in a series of staff and family photos holding this sign. Thomas shares his other top photos of 2020 below.
December 4, 2020

PHOTOS: Owen’s top picks of 2020

After five years as a multimedia specialist with Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), 2020 has looked a bit different for Owen Thomas’s day-to-day responsibilities. In previous years, his projects have included the “Up-Close” photo series to give our readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into life in the hospital, and innumerable patient photos both in people’s homes or from their hospital beds. But with changes implemented due to COVID-19, part of his focus turned to photos conveying important COVID-19 messaging, like this summer collection urging the public to wear a mask.

Even throughout the pandemic, our team has – safely – captured thousands of powerful photos this year. We’re very grateful to be able to share original photography on our website, social media channels, and in printed materials so our community can see the faces of our staff and patients reflected in the stories we share.

Take a look through the lens of HHS photographer Owen Thomas as he shares his top ten photos of 2020 in the gallery below.

Owen Thomas’s top ten photos of 2020

A high level of trust in your workmates is important for most professions but especially medical teams. Each staff member has someone double-check their protective equipment before going in to a COVID-19 patient’s room in the ICU.

Andy painting with watercolours

Absolute joy! Occasionally, we visit patients outside of hospital for them to share their stories. Andy is part of the award-winning Hospital 2 Home program that helps patients improve quality of life and live independently. It was a treat having Andy show me his extensive artwork and past works as a children’s author. I still have a drawing he gave me on my work desk.

Watching our extremely skilled medical professionals practicing and training at work is always fascinating. Procedures are risky not only for patients but also for themselves, so the Anesthesia Rapid Response Team (ARRT) practices intubation to ensure the lowest risk possible for exposure to COVID-19.

Showcasing innovative work, like Dr. Gihan Perera’s app that helps patients with concussions manage and track their symptoms, is another reason why I love my job. The cherry on top is when they have natural “model” skills and nail the photos in a few shots. In this photo, he exudes confidence and thoughtfulness in a beautiful wrap of light. I love the highlights on the right side and the gentle shadow fall-off on the left. It makes for a great 3-D feel in a 2-D portrait.

Beverly was one of our first COVID-19 patients. At the time of this photo, Beverly was waiting for test results, hoping for a negative result after being in hospital for almost 40 days. A couple days later, staff on Hamilton General – 8 West sent us a video of Beverly leaving the ward to a standing ovation from our staff. Watching that video was one of the most emotional moments for me this year and brought me to tears.

This was one of the last photo sessions before our organization had to make incredibly large changes to prepare for COVID-19. Henry is one of many success stories with our autism program. He’s also a reminder of how COVID-19 has affected more than just our ICU and COVID-19 wards. His program, along with many other programs and surgeries were paused during the first wave.

This was an extra snap while at Juravinski Emergency department. We ended up using this photo for the cover of our annual community report. Jason, a registered nurse, looks stoic and ready for anything.

This was from a newspaper ad to remind the public that our emergency departments are safe during COVID-19, if you need to seek care. It’s one of my favourites from that set. Photographically, all the leading lines direct you to his comforting smile. The background also helps remind me that Dr. Gupta will be calm under pressure.

Savannah is one of 70 people in the world that has been diagnosed with a rare skin disease, Febrile Ulcernecrotic Mucha-Habberman disease (FUHMD). It started to appear with a few spots. “Within 24 hours it looked like she had been set on fire.” Said her mother, Kaylie. Her resilience is inspiring. (Photographed pre-COVID)

For me, this photo of the Juravinski Emergency Department team exemplifies our organization’s “all-hands-on-deck” team approach that has been required to get us through these times. It’s humbling learning about what our frontline staff have to work through each day.

When did you start at HHS?

I have worked in the HHS Communications and Public Affairs department full-time just shy of 5 years. Prior to that, I had a great relationship with the department and worked on a variety of projects on a casual basis for a few years.

The very first project was for school internship hours. My colleague Scott Levely and I made a tribute video for the pediatric inpatient unit at McMaster Children’s Hospital. It featured stories of ten families, their healthcare journey and showing gratitude for the amazing staff who helped them. It won an award from the Canadian Public Relations Society too!

Owen Thomas - headshot

Owen Thomas joined the Hamilton Health Sciences Public Affairs and Communications department in 2016.

How did you get into photography?

My start in photography was almost by necessity. I used to publish a music and nightlife magazine with 5000 copies sprinkled around the city each month. Advertising paid for printing costs and I didn’t have a budget for an event photographer. So, I bought a camera and learned quickly.

Drawing and painting for years prior helped with the visually artistic side, so once I learned the technical basics of how cameras and light works, I was on my way. Journalism school helped push the storytelling side of my photography. I don’t really think of myself as a “photographer” though and look at it as one skill in the communication toolbelt.

What do you love about your job?

It’s one of the few positions that has touch points with every facet of our organization. We’ve done stories on acquired brain injury, the engineering of our buildings, community programs, all types of surgeries, uncommon medical cases and the list goes on. I’m surrounded by compassionate people and constantly learning from everyone. Knowing our messaging can have a positive effect on community health is also rewarding.

From a photojournalism perspective, the most mind-blowing experience for me is a three-way tie between a birth (first time seeing one live), an open heart surgery, and observing our trauma team in action.

What’s your favourite thing to photograph?

I love to photograph people while they work with their hands and when they are passionate about what they do! If they’re not working at a desk, people working can make for interesting photos. It could be construction, medical, craft makers, city services – anything with the hands can be an interesting image and a story with one frame.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I fill my time with gardening and motorbikes. It started as a few plants in the backyard three growing seasons ago. Almost the entire backyard is filled now! It’s so rewarding making dinners with the main ingredients coming right off the plant. I’m starting to take the “no dig/no till” approach and focus on building soil quality. With the lack of social interaction this summer, tending to the plants has greatly helped me mentally during these stressful times. I’m still waiting for the baby Meyer lemon tree to finish off its first full size lemon. It’s not big enough to take them to full maturity yet but the flowers smell amazing in the house. It’ll go back outside in the spring.

In the winter, I fix broken motorbikes. It’s a great balance between art and technical knowledge, like Lego for big kids. Plus, afterwards you get to take them to the track and race (not on the street).

What are a couple of fun facts about yourself?

I love my minivan. That might be common knowledge in our department. The van is used like a service vehicle. The passenger seats are never in it. I sleep in it when I’m at the motorcycle racetrack for the weekend or going on random road trips (pre-COVID-19, of course). I’ve slept in it inrandom rural areas of Ontario, New York state, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia and Illinois. Usually it’s to pick up motorbikes/engines/parts along the way.

The best goal I ever scored in youth house league hockey was on my own net. Top cheese trying to clear the puck. My goalie didn’t even have time to flinch.